Even David Frum Mostly Gets It

1 comment August 14th, 2007at 11:18am Posted by Eli

Now that Rove is on his way out the door, some conservative pundits are suddenly realizing that maybe his strategy of dirty tricks, mobilizing the base, and turning the federal government into a partisan arm of the Republican Party was not such a great idea. Funny, none of these oh-so-principled conservatives seemed to mind when it was winning elections for them…

David Frum shows us how it’s done:

AS a political strategist, Karl Rove offered a brilliant answer to the wrong question.

The question he answered so successfully was a political one: How could Republicans win elections after Bill Clinton steered the Democrats to the center?

The question he unfortunately ignored was a policy question: What does the nation need – and how can conservatives achieve it?

Mr. Rove answered his chosen question by courting carefully selected constituencies with poll-tested promises: tax cuts for traditional conservatives; the No Child Left Behind law for suburban moderates; prescription drugs for anxious seniors; open immigration for Hispanics; faith-based programs for evangelicals and Catholics.

These programs often contradicted each other. How do you cut taxes and also create a big new prescription drug benefit? If the schools are failing to educate the nation’s poor, how does it make sense to expand that population by opening the door to even more low-wage immigration?

Instead of seeking solutions to national problems, “compassionate conservatism” started with slogans and went searching for problems to justify them. To what problem, exactly, was the faith-based initiative a solution?

This was a politics of party-building and coalition-assembly. It was a politics that aimed at winning elections. It was a politics that treated the problems of governance as secondary. But of course governance is what incumbents get judged on – and since 2004, the negative verdict on President Bush’s governance has created a lethal political environment for Republican candidates.

Inspiring rhetoric and solemn promises can do only so much for an incumbent administration. Can it win wars? Can it respond to natural disasters? Can it safeguard the nation’s borders? Can it fill positions of responsibility with worthy appointees? If it cannot do those things, not even the most sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation can save it.


…Play-to-the-base politics can be a smart strategy – so long as your base is larger than your opponents’.

But it has been apparent for many years that the Democratic base is growing faster than the Republican base. The numbers of the unmarried and the non-churchgoing are growing faster than the numbers of married and church-going Americans. The nonwhite and immigrant population is growing at a faster rate than that of white native-borns. The Democrats are the party of the top and bottom of American society; the Republicans do best in the great American middle, which is losing ground.

Frum is right in general terms, but his specifics seem iffy at best and offensive at worst. I particularly like how he says the Democrats are the party of the upper and lower classes, while the Republicans are the party of the middle class. Yeah, ‘cuz the Democrats have always been all about big business and tax cuts for the superrich…

Mr. Rove often reminded me of a miner extracting the last nuggets from an exhausted seam. His attempts to prospect a new motherlode have led the Republican party into the immigration debacle.

…We took the self-evident brilliance of our plans so much for granted that we would not even meet, for example, with conservative academics who had the facts and figures to demonstrate the illusion of Rovian hopes for a breakthrough among Hispanic voters.

Boy, that David Frum really hates immigration, doesn’t he? Immigration reform might not have delivered a huge majority of Hispanics to the GOP, but it sure as hell wouldn’t deliver them to the Democrats.

Note to David Frum and all the other anti-immigrant true believers: You are not going to deport all the Hispanics, so you might as well try to get along with them instead of turning them into Democrats. But hey, it’s your party’s funeral.

Frum then has a very lucid paragraph, but quickly gets silly again:

Building coalitions is essential to political success. But it is not the same thing as political success. The point of politics is to elect governments, and political organizations are ultimately judged by the quality of government they deliver.


The outlook is not, however, entirely bleak for Republicans. I notice that much of the Democratic party, and especially its activist netroots, has decided that the way to beat Rove Republicanism is by emulating it. They are practicing the politics of polarization; they are elevating “framing” above policy; they have decided that winning the next election by any means is all that matters – and never mind what happens on the day after that.

If they follow this path, they should not be surprised when they discover that it leads to the same destination.

Yes, very cute, liberals are just as bad as conservatives, right, DailyKos is a hotbed of antisemitism, yadda yadda yadda.

The thing is, the polarized atmosphere that Bush, Rove, and the Republican Party have created leaves Democrats with only two choices: opposition or capitulation. Republicans are so loyal to the ultra-right that they will not reach across the aisle to compromise with Democrats, only demand that Democrats reach across to compromise with them.

So given those choices, not to mention the tiny little detail that a large majority of the American people agree with our “extremist” positions, an oppositional stance looks pretty darn rational.

Or, to look at it from a slightly different direction, Republicans and conservatives unconditionally opposed success and unconditionally support failure, while progressives (I only wish I could say Democrats) not-so-unconditionally supported success and oppose failure. I guess we’ll find out next year which approach the voters prefer.

Entry Filed under: Bush,Elections,Politics,Republicans,Rove

1 Comment

  • 1. bdr  |  August 14th, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    But isn’t Frum’s just another version of the incompetence dodge?

    Frum wouldn’t be happy if Rove had done exactly the same and Bush was at 60%?

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